10 underrated Dave Grohl cover performances you need to hear
Foo Fighters fans—and fans of Dave Grohl in general—know that he’s a big fan of the cover song. Fact is, Nirvana had a thing for covers, too, especially ones that their raucous audience wouldn’t, and couldn’t, see coming from a second stage away, never mind a mile.
Hell, once Nirvana even dug deep into the ’60s and came up with “Seasons In The Sun,” a heartbreaking dirge that topped the charts for one-hit wonder Terry Jacks, and actually makes sense that the late Kurt Cobain would dig. He performed it from behind Grohl’s kit, much to the befuddled audience’s shared dismay and delight. Here are 10 more times the covers came at you.
“Jessie’s Girl” – Rick Springfield
Not only did this prove to be a favorite of Grohl’s to incorporate into a Foo set, but he also managed to play it live a few times with the Australian rocker who penned it, Rick Springfield. One of those times, as the thunderous applause faded, you could hear Grohl shouting something about his bucket list and a box being checked. But that was only the beginning. Grohl would then go on to work with Springfield on a great tune called “The Man That Never Was.” This was all, ostensibly, for Grohl’s documentary, Sound City: Real To Reel, which saw another contributor, Sir Paul McCartney, and he won a Grammy for their work together. Ultimately, Grohl’s just a working-class dog.
“Kids In America” – Kim Wilde
An ’80s anthem if ever there was one, this MTV staple by Kim Wilde has been covered many a time, by everyone from Bloodhound Gang to pop star Tiffany to the Donnas. Yet, Foo Fighters both paid proper respect to the timeless tune but also rocked it out the way it so obviously demanded. Eschewing the captivating synth intro in favor of a strumming Strat, Grohl lets his intentions be known from the get-go, even if he does manage to deliver the opening lines in the same foreboding way his female British counterpart did. They rock. The band...and the kids.
“Band On The Run” – Paul McCartney & Wings
Pretty easy to get McCartney to sign off on you doing a cover of one of his most popular post-Beatles songs once you include him in a documentary and score him a Grammy. Here, Grohl, Taylor Hawkins and the rest start things off just fine, with Grohl doing his best McCartney, but once that legendary transition comes in, they Foo it up. Meaning things get very fast and even a bit trippy. Ultimately, it’s all homage, even if it’s sped up significantly. McCartney was treated to a performance of the tune at the White House while seated directly next to then-President Barack Obama in 2010.
“Back In Black” – AC/DC
Picture the scene: It’s New Year’s Eve, 2002. MTV was still somewhat MTV, and as such was having a hell of a concert as it got closer and closer to midnight. Foo Fighters were being heavily promoted as the musical act that would be ushering in the new year, and they’d be doing it with a mystery guest. Carson Daly is doing his best to hype it, but everyone is going berserk—both in attendance and at house parties across America with this on in the background. Then the countdown gives way to Foo Fighters firing up the AC/DC anthem, and with a Black of their own: Jack Black on vocals, who promptly knocks this sucker out of the park.
“Baker Street” – Gerry Rafferty
The first thing ’70s music lovers have to get over upon queuing up the Foo version of this Gerry Rafferty hit from the disco decade is that the sax is gone, and a smoking lead guitar replaces it. You’ll be ticked for a second, but only for that long. When Grohl comes in with the vocals, they’re pitch-perfect. Others probably don’t even know any such switch was made and love the licks. We’re talking about those who discovered the Foo version when it was the B-side to “My Hero”; all they know is they got two epic rock tunes for the price of one. For collectors, it can be found on the 10th anniversary edition of the Foo’s sophomore effort, The Colour And The Shape.
“Under Pressure” – Queen (feat. David Bowie)
This one the band only pull out on special occasions. Drummer Hawkins takes center stage for it, with Grohl backing him up in very much the same way the late, greats Freddie Mercury and David Bowie traded vocals for the original. The special occasion here is Queen drummer Roger Taylor was in the house, and what better way to seize that moment? They’d already mastered the number (once with Hawkins lending his kit to Taylor’s son, Rufus) and even performed “Tie Your Mother Down” alongside Brian May himself. The fact that Foo Fighters can cover bands as disparate as Queen, AC/DC and even Rush is a testament to their prowess as musicians and to their unparalleled fanboy status.
“My Best Friend’s Girl” – The Cars
Even back with Nirvana, covers weren’t a rarity. Oftentimes, the legendary Seattle trio would seemingly just haphazardly—and many times half-heartedly—meander into one during a solo of one of their own tunes. Such wasn’t the case with “My Best Friend’s Girl,” a 1978 hit for neo-punk legends the Cars. Nirvana liked to cover songs that their fanbase would be thrown by, and this pop ditty fits the bill, but not if you peek just a bit beneath the surface. Cars frontman Ric Ocasek was the producer du jour of the ’90s, helming records for the likes of Weezer, No Doubt, Bad Brains and more. Cobain actually gives the song his all, and it shows, and it’s good. Amen.
“My Sharona” – The Knack
This No. 1 song from 1979 was torn into onstage several times in 1994, but much in the way just described: a solo in the middle of a Nirvana song would detour into it, and only briefly, even if Cobain would growl the lyrics so viscerally that you’d want him to finish the damn thing. It did the polar opposite to the song that Winona Ryder did with it in the film Reality Bites that same year. Both worked. Cobain was once quoted as saying he was listening to a lot of the Knack while in the studio, raising the question, “Why didn’t they ever cover the song that was so Nirvana: the follow-up single, ‘Good Girls Don’t’?”
“Turn Around” – Devo
Outre ’80s sensation Devo are another perfect example of exactly who a fan wouldn’t expect Cobain and company to cover. Grohl, maybe, but not Cobain. Sure, Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh would go on to become a revered film composer, working steadily with ’90s indie darling Wes Anderson and even moving on to considerably bigger fare such as The Lego Movie and Thor: Ragnarok, but that all came later. Cobain might have been tickled by the composing he was doing for Saturday morning cartoons at the time of Nirvana’s song or simply just wanted to whip it. Whip it good.
“Molly’s Lips” – The Vaselines
Nirvana’s take on “Molly’s Lips” by the Vaselines was one of a few performances that surfaced from an appearance on the BBC before their groundbreaking album Nevermind was even released. It became such a fan favorite that Sub Pop Records rushed it out on vinyl, releasing it as a split single (Denver rockers the Fluid grace the other side with “Candy”). Turntables weren’t in favor at the time, being steadily replaced by CD players in homes, only to resurface in their big bad way some 20 years later. Hopefully you all hung on to it. The “Molly’s Lips” that made it onto vinyl was actually recorded live in Portland, and the rumor persists that Cobain never wanted it released, feeling it was an inferior take. Entertain us, indeed.